Tag Archives: Cosmic Encounter

Game Camp 2015 Day 5 (Friday): FUTURE TANK!

Revised Epub forthcoming!

Our final day! I was debating whether to run WAR ROCKET or FUTURE TANK for this day and opted for Future Tank. FT has a lot of physical activity and chaos involved in the design and that would definitely appeal to most of the campers this week!

If you follow these pages from time to time you’ll know that I’m interested in the designs of Mr. Jim Wallman of Great Britain. This kindly gent has put up the rules to many of the games he works on (as I do). One of them that caught my eye was a much older design called TANK DUEL. This was a little semi-roleplaying experience where the players play the roles inside a WW2 era tank. I think it’s charming and a great fit for kids. However, being the tinkerer I am, I had to play with it a bit, projecting the time scale and technology forward a little into the near future of conflict. FUTURE TANK is a spiritual successor and cousin to TANK DUEL, uses many of the same concepts and roles, and really differs only in the setting and the increased number of tasks that are available on a technological battlefield.

Ideally, you’re supposed to have IDENTICAL terrain on both sides of the curtain– that was impractical, so the double blind really represented a “haze of uncertainty” rather than a true double blind application. I would have liked the map to have been just a trifle larger in all dimensions.

We had two crews of future tank players– Loader, Gunner, Driver, Commander, and Sparky.

Loader had to run to the table and get a specifically colored M&M for specific shell types.
Gunner basically would AIM the turret of the tank and shout FIRED! to indicate a shell had gone out the main gun.
Commander would give a wide range of orders to Sparky, Gunner and Loader, as well as fly the recon drone.
Sparky scanned the battlefield, linked with other tanks on Battle net, and operated ECM.
Treads drove the tank on the battlefield, and moved the model around.

When a crew on a tank hears PING!!! they have 5 seconds to exit the room or they are all dead. Here we see a knocked out Future Tank. Most tank duels ended at close range.

Future Tank was an experiment that I think will be a great game. The players loved the sense of tension and uncertainty given by the double blind curtain. The fun element was guessing where your opponent would be the upcoming turn. Adding to the uncertainty was the fact that your scanning wasn’t 100% accurate. The scan roll would be slightly distorted if Sparky rolled reds over blacks on the scan dice, but not high ENOUGH reds over blacks..

Sparky’s plotting board he uses for a SCAN task, plus an orange BLIP TOKEN (placed by me) showing where he should correct to. The two magnets represent Sparky’s best guess where the two tanks are in relation to each other. great visual fun when you are double blind.  You can see many previous locations marked by Xs.

The guys loved it. I’m going to continue developing FT as it needs the text cleaned up a trifle. The ideas are all good, I think.

The Commander’s Remote Control Drone, which he can fly to increase his chances of finding enemy tanks.

We ended about 145 and then ran the classic end of the year ice cream party, and played Cosmic Encounter. A great time was had by most. I had a couple of “bad actors” who were clearly dumped there by parents who didn’t see that it wouldn’t be a good fit. What the heck, we tried to keep them occupied, including letting them go shoot baskets for an hour each day, which helped.

Otherwise another great year for gaming camp. if you think on it, most years I can manage 1 or 2 new games per camp– I try to make at least one of them be a big “Grand Slam” game on Wednesday. THIS year, I had FOUR new games, two of which were commercial. Dungeons and Dragons: Attack Wing, Ride that Fury Road, Future Tank (and possibly) War Rocket. There rarely is time to run 5 games in week, so I knew that was an ambitious schedule at the outset. The kids loved White Line Fever, but the feedback was that they enjoy Big Danged Boats more than WLF, so I will bring that back for next year.

More pictures of Day 5


Cosmic Connector on Kickstarter…. cancelled

Update: (No need to write another post) In a surprise move, Future Pastimes, aka, the Cosmic Encounter design team, cancelled this project two days after I funded it, on 25 October 2014.  Well, that was fast.

I’ve often thought how great it would be to play Cosmic Encounter, my favorite game ever, on the Ipad.  It would seem like a daunting task, so many of the Alien card powers would need to interact with each other seamlessly– I couldn’t see an artificial intelligence Cosmic Encounter player as being an easy task to program.

What might be possible, I’m guessing, would be a program to facilitate a “game in real time” app for remote games, or a helper app for asynchronous play.  Sort of like a VASSAL for only Cosmic. It would appear some level of this wish is in the process of being granted (with some help from a lot of Kickstarter backers). Or might be. I’m an eternal optimist.

Cosmic Connector is, in the words of Peter Olotka, a ‘connector app’ that he would like to get financed.  It will connect remote players of the game Cosmic Encounter:

“Our vision for the Connector App

Think of this project as building a collaboration tool for social board game players. The goal of this project isn’t to build a game app in the classic sense of an online or mobile interpretation of a board game. The goal of the Cosmic Encounter Connector Project is to create an environment where you can hear other players clearly and play Cosmic Encounter.

We want to replicate the social experience and fun of playing a physical board game in a digital game environment optimized first for mobile touchscreen devices and then for desktops. This is different from a digital version of a board game focused on game mechanics and special effects. The Connector is focused on you as a player and on enhancing your experience of interacting with other players. Everybody will be able to talk to each other and have everything they need to play Cosmic Encounter, right at their fingertips. Connect, talk and play!”  — from the Kickstarter Page

Now, that’s market-speak to be sure, but what I’m seeing in the mockups and in the video is a real time or asynchronous PBeM game app, and that might be worth my hard earned dollars.

I like the notion of being able to play CE online in RT or asynchronously.  I’m not AS crazy about their pricing scheme, which appears to be– “big hunk of aliens possible at lowest level, then about 1/4 of that more at the next level.. then 1/4 more at the next level, and if you donate 1000 dollars you’ll get the whole shooting match”  If it’s an in-game purchase to get more aliens later, then say that up front in so many words.   I’m a little confused on how this is going to work.  I do know my pledge level will give me enough aliens to play with for a long time.  What’s going to happen when I encounter a player with deeper pockets than me, who wants to start a game with an alien I don’t have?  I wish that was spelled out a little bit.

Oh well, it’s Cosmic Encounter, I know the game well enough to know I’m going to have a good time with this thing.  If you’re interested, see the Kickstarter Page here. One of my fantasy matchups would be to play Tom Vasel some day in Cosmic Encounter– its’ our mutual favorite game. Perhaps .. who knows.. it will now be possible?

Board Games for Kids’ events, 11-18 years old

What’s this all about?

Playing Cosmic Encounter at the 2014 Game Camp. Still a massive hit.

I’ve been running game camps for kids for a little under a decade now, and a big portion of what success I’ve had with them is due to adding board games to a mostly miniatures-based program. Board games, especially designer board games (or Family Board Games, or Hobby Board games, take your pick..) fill up the gaps in a program where I’m setting up some big miniatures game and need to keep kids occupied for an hour or more on one side of the room.

I’m going to start recording the board games we use at Camp to keep kids engaged and having fun, and the reasons why I choose them.  I envision this piece to be an ongoing narrative that I update on a semi-regular (quarterly) basis.  There’s just too many to try to create an all encompassing list; once I’ve compiled a few, I’ll move this up to a page tab.

Let’s get started with my FALL of 2014 Recommendations if you are looking to find games that will play well with a group of kids from about 11 to 18 years in age, with a few hours to kill here and there.  I’ll try to do another one in January 2015.


It’s no small secret that Cosmic Encounter is my favorite board game of all time.   I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there.   What was a surprise was just how readily younger kids take to this game.  There’s something about the Nomic quality of the changing Alien powers, the component mix from FFG, and the generally silly atmosphere.  I would recommend the FFG version over all others, for the artwork alone, but also the range of choices that add to the customization.  I think CE’s easy to perceive goal, plus ever-changing nature, makes it far more accessible to younger children than I gave it credit for before.



Get Bit was a charming little surprise I discovered through Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web show.  It’s a simple positional race game not unlike GMT’s earlier Formula Motor Racing (which is another great candidate for a kid’s camp, but I’d play it with Matchbox cards).    Players put their cute plastic robots in a line in the water, followed by a shark with a taste for robots.   Single number cards (from a finite hand of cards) are played that move the robots around in order.   The last robot in line gets “chomped” and loses a limb.  When he loses all limbs, he’s out.  It’s no suprise WHY kids like this– it’s all about cartoon violence, of course, but there’s also some great decision making and strategy implied in the card play.  Immensely popular.


Tsuro is another one of those great discoveries that came into my radar through the Tabletop show.  I knew it existed, and I knew that it had been out since 2006, but I had never played it.  I already had Metro by Queen Games, which reminds me of it quite a bit.  Essentially this is a path-finding puzzle style game where the players try to keep their dragons on the maze-like path built by placing tiles.   It’s simple and easy to pick up, and very visual.  The theme is a little more exciting than Metro (which is about streetcars), so I would recommend Tsuro over Metro.



It’s a little too easy to call  The Resistance “a Werewolf/Mafia variant” but people often do.   Certain elements are very similar to Werewolf, to be sure– such as the day/night turn and turn-based mechanics. However, the addition of the cards and the “going on a mission” theme really gives this humble little game a great framework that (I think) forces the players into using deductive logic much more than Werewolf ever will.  Werewolf games can devolve into silliness rather quickly– which is why I don’t recommend them that highly for younger kids, they might take accusations too seriously and have their feelings hurt.   The Resistance takes a similar riff and adds the cards and mission element on top of it, which tends to distance the younger players from the J’accuse! flavor of Werewolf.  Notes to adults: don’t even attempt to run this if you don’t have at least six committed players, and do NOT take the sixth spot yourself.  You’ll need to be in charge for the first game, anyway.

CODE 777

Code 777 is a modern reworking of Mastermind (in some respects).  It is a good design for 2-5 players, and I suspect 4 is optimal.  Each player has a Scrabble style rack with three tiles on it– tiles are a certain color and number, or have a certain symbol behind them.  The players have a grasp of certain facts– there are only so many of this tile, or so many of that tile, or so many blue tiles, etc. etc.  Cards are played with questions on them that help the players deduce their own sequences.  That’s right, their own– the tiles face outward; so the other players know only what every player except themselves are displaying.  The players can glean a lot of knowledge to make deductions with from what they see in every tile rack except their own.  Code 777 is a much older design (from 1985 at least, and maybe older) but has recently been reprinted by Stronghold Games.  This is a great game for problem solving and deductive logic; it never fails to keep kids engaged.



Room 25 is a great maze style game where the maze starts built and flipped over and gradually is revealed by the player’s tokens exploring the map through trial and (often) deadly error;  the players assume a set series of roles (six, maximum) which are quite colorful but functionally identical (sadly; I think this could be improved upon in an expansion).  The game can be played cooperatively (boo!) or semi-treacherously (yay!) where some of the players have hidden traitor roles.  The theme of the game is very similar to a series of Canadian Horror/SF films called Cube/Hypercube etc.   Players have a limited series of actions, two per turn, which either affect their own player token or the token of whomever is on the current tile with them.  Room 25’s goofy imagery and characters, the changeable map, added to a soupçon of treachery makes this game a perennial favorite with younger teenagers.



Roll through the Ages is the game that got me started on the notion of adding board games to the miniature-heavy events I was running for camp.  For some reason, over the years, I have  had my share of children who suffer from Asperger syndrome and even high functioning Austism.  These are special cases– they want to be engaged but they sometimes can’t engage at the same level as other children.  Sometimes they quickly grow bored of the main activity.  I was in such a bind several years ago and on a whim, I pulled a copy of Roll Through The Ages, which I had bought that week on an enthusiastic recommendation from Tom Vasel.  RTTA is a great game– you are really playing yourself more than an opponent, so there isn’t a lot of social interaction to stress a kid out, and lots of challenges and decisions to make as you try to score high by rolling for civilization advantages and building great works.  It’s an elegant little dice game with great chunky components.  Anyway, to get back to my story, I had an Asperegers’ kid.  He was bored and being disruptive.  I handed him Roll Through The Ages and explained very quickly how to play it.  It took him all of 5 minutes to figure it out (all of my kids are smart!).  He was entranced.  He played RTTA non-stop, for the rest of the week.  I had half a pad of score pads after he was done.  I didn’t care, he was happy as a clam and said it was his best camp that Summer.  Go figure!  It was the success of this desperate experiment in board gaming (totally unplanned, I just happened to have it with me that day) that led me to include board games as a regular part of the curriculum.


This is a catchall for games that are all somewhat thematically similar, play fast and easy, and feature a series of specialized, thematic highly colorful dice that interact with each other in a specific way.

The granddaddy is Zombie Dice, where the players are playing the roles of the Zombies in a Zombie movie, looking for brains; there is also a very similar game where the players are playing the role of the Aliens in a UFO invasion called Martian dice.   You can play a Ninja on a special mission in Ninja Dice, Re-theme Zombie Dice with Hunting Dinosaurs and you have Dino Hunt Dice, and finally play a game of re-themed Put and Take with Cthulhu Dice.   The mechanics differ from game to game, but they all are rich in theme, very colorful, very simple and resolve and play very quickly.  This kind of game handles 3-4 kids comfortably.  The up side is they are all very affordable and you can probably buy all of them if you have a large crowd of kids.  Maybe even throw a dice game tournament, who knows?


I could go on and on with this post but I think I’m going to limit these to about 8-10 at a time so I don’t feel rushed.  The games in this posting have all been played at kid’s camps and although some games have failed to garner support, these have all done pretty well since I started.  I hope you find these suggestions useful

Game Camp 2014, Last Day: X-Wing, The Resistance, Cosmic, & Zombies

Today was our last day of Gaming Camp at St. Stephens & St. Agnes school, Alexandria, VA.

They call it “Fantasy Battle Camp” Well, okay, I can live with that. I guess “Wargame” doesn’t read well for a family activity.

So our last day was literally jam-packed as we attempted to cram anything we haven’t done yet in the remaining hours. I set up a Super Gigantic X-Wing Smack-down on two tables:

Far table: X-Wing (Skywalker) and Y-Wing versus TIE Bomber and TIE Fighter. Near table: TIE advanced (Vader) and TIE Defender versus A-Wing, B-Wing, Y -WIng and X-WIng.

X-Wing Miniatures was pretty popular with everyone who played it. The Basic game can be taught in a few minutes and the rules are dirt simple.

Once the kids got the nuances of planning where they wanted to be the next turn (and really, the turn after), the game was very speedy and I didn’t have to monitor it beyond a rule dispute or two.

Gleeful Rebel Pilots gloa.t after victory

We ended up getting in a demo game of THE RESISTANCE during lunch, which is an old favorite of mine.  This is a game that has a similar vibe to WEREWOLF but doesn’t require that “Open your eyes, close your eyes” thing so much.  We played with two spies and 3 resistance fighters.  The Resistance won.

After lunch we played a game that has become traditional as the Friday afternoon closer. We had to 86 the notion of an ice-cream party as originally planned, since I was less one helper (Garrett was sick). So we played the game associated with Friday at camp, Zombietown USA.  This simple zombie apocalypse game was designed by our 2008 camp, and revised by the 2012.   You can pick up a copy here.  You need a handful of SWAT miniatures, a lot of Zombies, and a handful of dice and some sticks.

More Zombies generated (Orange Tokens)

and… THE END!!! Zombies 18, SWAT 0!

The end of Zombietown had most of the SWAT forces overwhelmed and overrun by Zombies. The SWAT team couldn’t make any headway.. they insisted on running from one point to another, and that kept generating zombies faster than they could kill them.

And that was Game Camp! A great week, great kids– all of them very intelligent and quick to pick things up. Everyone liked BIG DANGED BOATS very much, and some were excited about the idea of the game possibly being published.

We played: Big Danged Boats, The Magi, Cosmic Encounter, Room 25, The Resistance, X-Wing Miniatures, and Zombietown.

I really enjoy running this camp every year, and have been doing it steadily since 2006. I will be back next year.

Game Camp 2014 Day Four: The End, CE, Room 25 and X-Wing!

The END! of BDB that is.


The Grand Finale of Big Danged Boats. Cedric (running O.R.C.), smashed through the front door but met up with a gigantic horde of Slithin and Mercenaries. He put up a valiant fight but in the end was overwhelmed by slashing Slithin blades. So Gordon won, more or less, but it was a great and epic game!! CLICK the PICTURE above to see a slideshow of the last hours of BDB 2014

Thursday was a fun day but very busy. BDB got voted in for a morning event to finish off the last remnants of the Day 3 battle. The morning session was basically to finish off some critical boarding actions and the final attempt at taking the Orbs. Needless to say, it did not go well for the Allies. Being young fellers with their bloodlust up, they concentrated on attacking each other while Gordon looked on in puzzlement. Cedric’s O.R.C. troopers finally got IN the tower but were overwhelmed by the Tower Guard. So Gordon “won” if it really matters. The session threw off my original schedule quite a bit, as BDB is a bear to put away– even with many little helpers. We managed, though, and it went faster with a lot of hands helping. I got things to a point where I could get the rest of it done quickly and Garrett set up and played Room 25 which was pretty much a group activity though not everyone played (It’s only for 6 players.. they need to make an expansion!).


We got BDB put and while I was grabbing a sandwich a spontaneous game of COSMIC ENCOUNTER started. I have no idea if the kids really KNOW how to play CE by the rules or not, but Gar knows it, and it seemed to be going well.

While that was going on more kids drifted away and started Painting with Mr. Chris Johnson, for which I was grateful for the visit.

We were very fortunate, as always, to have some donations from WARGAMES FACTORY to paint with. The kids loved them and EVERYTHING GOT USED! Don’t believe me? Check it out here:

Thanks, Dixie!

Our last event was running a game of X-Wing Miniatures. This was severely curtailed but played fast and furious like X-Wing does.

Perhaps unbalanced?

I tried to balance this one but I hadn’t played in a long while, and I suspect the Empire is truly doomed. No matter, we’ll run TWO simultaneous games tomorrow, but I suspect this might force me to cut out an Ice Cream party in the afternoon. Too much to get through!

Game Camp Day 3: Cosmic Encounter, Get Bit and Big Danged Boats

Wednesday was a big success. Garrett and I ran two elements of gaming: Gar ran Cosmic Encounter the best danged boardgame in the universe, in the morning, while I set up Big Danged Boats.

It’s gratifying to see how quickly the younger crowd picks up on a classic like CE and they were roaring with laughter, arguing over the finer points of the rules, etc. in next to no time flat.

We had lunch (and Gar ran GET BIT while doing so)

BIG DANGED BOATS being ready, we commenced to hand out ships. BDB has had some major redesign in gunnery, damage control, and ramming since our last outing. I’ve also handled the notion of reinforcements by instituting a Mercenary Market phase at the start of the game, and added reinforcements on a card on a side table. Worked like a charm.

I won’t dwell on the substantive changes but suffice to say that combat is leaner, with fewer choices and exceptions and just a straight roll for size of gun versus armor protection and other modifiers. Reducing the kegs of boom powder helps. I had factions run out of shots. By turn 3 the most armored ship on the table was smashed to pieces, sinking, when a prodigy of Wrenching rolls saved their butts.

Here’s a little slide show of the day’s events:

Ships engaged were THE FOOT OF THE DEAD GOD, the Dwarven IRON COUNCIL STEALTH FLEET, the SIEGE MACHINE (gnomes), the DEADNOUGHT and BLACK GALLEY (Bone Brigade), The PRIMUS (rat men), the SYLVAN TERROR (wood elves), and the HOPLITE (Spartan CosPlay society).

This was an agressive game and it definitely had the children showing the adults up from the last time I range a game. They were ferocious. As you can see here, young Kennon got into her role of summoning the Squid God.

Perhaps too well:

They thought this was so twisted they are now asking to play it tomorrow morning, so another, third day of running games day and afternoon.

Game Night Gibson

Having bumped into Steve and Jeff at the comic book shop for Free Comic Book Day (look elsewhere on here for reportage), we decided to hold a board game night at Steve’s house.  Steve purchased the last copy of ROOM 25 at Victory Comics due to the 25% off sale, so he aced me on that one.  The description reminded me strongly 0f the Canadian horror/suspense CUBE movies, and  we had to give this one a try based on the descriptive text.

“Trapped in a prison in which each room has four doors but apparently no exit, the players must try to find Room 25, the supposed exit to this nightmare. But some amongst them might be guardians of the prison, waiting for the right moment to strike. In the cooperative game Room 25, not everyone wants to escape from imprisonment – but who is the traitor? Each turn, the player moves are preprogrammed, requiring discussion, negotiation – and possibly betrayal.”
— From the Box Cover

ROOM 25:

There are three modes of play– solitaire, cooperative and semi-cooperative, where two players assume the role of mission saboteurs called “Security”.  Forget the other two, semi-cooperative is THE way to play this game.  Also, I wouldn’t suggest fewer than 5 players.

Setup is pretty simple, start with the center room card, put your figures on it and place tiles around the outside, face down, so you have no idea what is being placed. Tile deck consistency is based on number of players, so this is tailored in advance.

Once the “cube” is built, you take turns (using an innovative sliding turn scale) to program two actions from four possible actions, per each individual character. They are Peek (into a room), Push (some hapless sap into a room), Move (into a room), and Control (move the row up or down or side to side one square). Once you place your action tokens, just like RoboRally, your character has to do them.

There are six different characters that add a lot of color to the game (Bimbo, Dude, little Girl, Scientist, etc), but really, they are just for color– each character is functionally identical to the rest of them. Which is too bad, really.

Yes, I played the Bimbo. And I did a cracker-jack job of it, to boot.

The game got started and proceeded swiftly. Young Chris Gibson went for the edge immediately by moving without looking. The results were inevitable.



Sniff.. DON’T LOOK AT ME!!!

The game continued and slowly the map revealed itself as the layout slid back and forth and up and down.. cards were peeked at, people were shoved into rooms…


(that’s my bimbo being shoved into the Cold Room).

More rooms reveal themselves

Each tile does something… usually nasty. There’s a fire room that instantly annihilates a player. A water room that drowns a player, a Poison Gas room, a couple of Cold Rooms, etc. etc. The idea is to run for the exit tile which is the “Room 25” of the title. Two hidden security guards are also participating that wish to keep you from achieving the goal.

The Behemoth moves to the edge and then CONTROLS the row to make it slide. The Professor is in some deadly room…

I do like hidden traitor games and that is the only way to play this one– it was greatly entertaining. We were sabotaged by Andrew and Steve, but they had to be subtle about it. Well, Andrew was subtle, anyway.. Steve has a hard time processing that concept.


That’s right, see? It was ME, allll along! BWA HA HA HA HA!!!! I played you all for FOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLSSSSSSS!!!!

Steve’s such a good winner.


Second game of the evening was the best game in the world, COSMIC ENCOUNTER. I don’t have to have my arm twisted to play that one, but some of the group were whining about wanting to play STONE AGE (I’m looking at you, Jeff and Andrew). I gladly helped Steve browbeat the crowd into playing CE. Yippee! The old guilt trip works every time!

“Perhaps you may have heard of this game.. Cosmic Encounter…”

We started with a little video instruction for the newcomers from Tom “My Favorite Game in the Universe is Cosmic Encounter” Vasel, and discovered either we (and the rulebook) did something different or Tom does his challenges with the Cosmic Cone backward! We were baffled! Then we didn’t let it bother us and proceeded.

I drew THE PYGMY and something I’ve played before, and went with the Pygmy. Each planet counts as half for conquest purposes and only four counters can ever be on a planet, which limits offensive challenges. I loved this.. they say the Pygmy has the power of Half, but it’s really “The Power of Crappy Real Estate!!” YAY!!!

Why do I have ten, you say? It’s the Pygmy’s power. 2 per planet and you use an unused set of planets with your own tokens.

I forget the rest of the powers but I think there was THE BARBARIAN (gets extra compensation), FILCH (Steals cards), SORCERE (switches cards before being revealed), and couple I’m forgetting. I was at a serious deficit throughout the game. Nobody is that eager to align with the Pygmy, as it’s hard to offer anyone anything of value as compensation. Likewise, nobody was that eager to attack me either, and I was the only player who didn’t loose his power or have his home real estate invaded. Again, crappy real estate in action.

Close to end game. Yes, my position could be better. A mighty ONE ship is sent to the offensive

At the end of the game, Steve and his daughter Nicole shared the victory while Steve and I were the runners up with 3 bases. Any day you spend playing Cosmic Encounter beats a day when you didn’t play Cosmic Encounter. Huzzah, fun was had by all.

White had it far harder than I did.

BALTICON 46 and Cosmic Encounters

Another Memorial Day, another BALTICON

We got our all day pass from Audrey and departed for a day trip to BALTICON 46 on Saturday, held at the Hunt Valley Inn near Towson, MD.  Balticon is the science fiction convention put on over the long Memorial Day weekend by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society.   This is a generalist convention, without a real theme, just a love of science fiction and fantasy literature.  As such, it attracts a ton of writers and hopeful writers and there are many events designed to assist or show off science fiction writers.  Signings and readings take up a huge part of every day.   The highlight of the convention (for many) are the masquerades– a Steampunk ball Friday night and a more conventional Masquerade Saturday.  The highlight for ME is the film festival on Sundays, but that wasn’t in the cards this year.

The usual silliness prevailed with costuming.  This is a pastime that doesn’t float my boat but it surely does for a majority of conventioneers.   I’m not an old fogey about costumes, they make people happy and add to the wacky appeal to SF conventions.   There were even some costumes I thought were outstanding, like Mr. Robot Monster (above).

I performed a decent raid on the dealer’s room and picked up about five books from various vendors.  More to follow on that.   I told Gar that I would purchase a reasonably priced book for him for attending with me and he got a book of Geekly aphorisms.  I also picked up OZ FLUXX from Looney Labs.

I got into one panel discussion, which was excellent in itself, about Podcasting:

I was reasonably outspoken at this one, having dabbled in the art myself from time to time and was kind of shocked to realize the paucity of information exchanged on this topic. Virtually nobody in the room had heard of Starship Sofa, for instance, or Penn’s Sunday School, or even SFF Audio, the Stitcher app and Hufferduffer. Go figure! So I babbled for a bit and got some good leads for new things to listen to. One of the authors on the panel posited that over reliance on a very narrow field of audio programming related to a hobby or such was dangerous, as it only shows us a narrow range of the world. I reacted that there are many people that get their news just from just FOX or CNN or something, and that’s hardly unique. I enjoyed this panel, and wished there was more time to participate in more of them.

Links to Podcast, Podcast Novels, and resources in this panel:

We nipped for dinner at the local Wegman’s Market. This is is a great choice for a meal, as we each could get a little bit of anything for dinner.

BALTICON TRADITION: The Big Cosmic Encounter Game..

The cover of the current edition of Cosmic Enc...

The cover of the current edition of Cosmic Encounter, from Fantasy Flight Games. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our way back we broke out the best game in the known Universe, COSMIC ENCOUNTER.  Usually we have about 5 or 6 playing this game at Balticon, this year it was just Jerod (our guest), Garrett, and I.  We played two games of the short version (four planets) and then had to beat feet for home as 8 PM loomed.

We only played two games of the short variant with reduced planets back to back. This game proved to be very popular with Jerod, our guest. His comment was “Let’s play this game every week, okay?”

In our first game I was the Philanthropist, who depletes his deck by handing out dross from his hand to other players.  Gar was the Shadow, and frankly, we weren’t sure how to play this one.    (Drawing a blank on Jerod’s first alien).

In the second match:

Garrett’s Alien from the SECOND game, FIDO, wreaked havoc on the game and was difficult to overcome. Especially if he is teaming up against a third player and there is a 30 in the deck. Trouble!

Jerod’s character for the second game, REMORAH, also was difficult to overcome, as he tag-teamed with Gar. Essentially he was getting a new card every turn, though he rarely remembered to bust his ships out of the warp.

My first time as THE REINCARNATOR. A fascinating power. If you lose a challenge, you can come back as a different alien.

Reincarnation 1 was THE HACKER, which is a power I only used a couple times, as it didn’t have a lot of value stacked up against the REMORAH and ROVER.

Later in the game I reincarnated as THE PACIFIST. This is a fun alien power, that essentially allows you to play challenges with a NEGOTIATE card.  I used this one to great effect in the second game.

Making the final push:

Sometimes it does come down to a game this close…

The short version is I won both times, but not by a cakewalk. We had a great time, and had to depart afterward, as it was getting late.

Thank you to all the organizers of BALTICON, a thoroughgoing professional and literary Science Fiction convention.  Until next year!

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Quarriors is hip, Cosmic Encounters rocks and so does the Shut up and Sit Down show

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2011, everyone!

The Shut Up and Sit Down! show is rapidly becoming a favorite gaming podcast/vidcast of mine. The show, a combination of blog and vimeo videos by Quintin Smith and Paul Dean, is funny, splendidly irreverent, clever and very well written. Even more interesting is that each episode of the video is acted.. It’s a story of sorts. You don’t usually get this kind of thing with other boardgame centric podcasts.. a narrative behind the subject of the show. Each Shut up and Sit Down show tries to have fun with the material, and Smith and Dean usually succeed. Episode 7, which aired just before Christmas 2011, reviewed QUARRIORS, a recent acquisition of mine (BGG Secret Santa 2011). The show had only lukewarm praise for the game (or perhaps it could better be described as a “split” between the two reviewers), a point of view I enjoy and respect. Podcasts can often be a little “cheerleadery” with their reviews. Smith and Dean aren’t negative for the sake of being negative, and with classic British dry wit, demonstrate what they like and don’t like without dwelling on pleasantries. And they are funny!

Here’s the most recent episode, which serves up QUARRIORS (is it a toy, or a game, or some sort of mutant?), PHANTOM LEADER (criticized for too much paperwork), a trio of print and play games (one was too hard, one was too lean, the last was roundly derided), and COSMIC ENCOUNTER (justifiably given best game ever status) were all reviewed in the show, in the midst of a story about two friends having a tiff on Christmas, going off to a sulk, and then reuniting again. What a great episode, and keep in mind it was about boardgames!

I’ll still listen to traditional shows where one or more people sit down in front of microphone and ramble on about boardgames, but I love the format of SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN. Highly recommended.

Life is a Cosmic Cone.. a Cosmic Encounter comic strip…

The idea for this came to me during a recent game of one of my favorite boardgames, Cosmic Encounter. My group has a certain dramatic way of presenting the game play which is echoed here in the names of the characters: the Green Machine, the Blue Meanies, the Red Menace, the Orange Crush, The Yellow Peril and the Purple People Eaters. In this episode, Red tries a time-honored trick.

Click on the cover to view

Life is a Cosmic Cone

Click the image to go to the comic

COSMIC ENCOUNTER is copyright Peter Olotka and Eon Games.

BAR WARS: Beer, Swill, Cosmic Encounters and Kung Fu Fighting

Saturday night witnessed my friends Mark Benedict and Rob Pryor back in town on some family business. Mark and Rob were jonesing for old fashioned “Guy’s Night” style fun from the good old days and asked me to set something up. Nothing evokes that more carefree era for me more than a game of either Illuminati or Cosmic Encounter. Since Illuminati plays a little long and I had to depart by 1130 to pick up Anne, I pulled the new version of Cosmic out (published by Fantasy Flight Games). I reckoned we MIGHT have time for two games if the BS factor didn’t catch up with us, but I was betting on only getting one in, and so it proved to be.

FFG Cosmic Encounter Bits

FFG Cosmic Encounter Bits

I grew up, as it were, playing the old Eon Version of Cosmic, which was not glamorous to look at but had literally hours and hours and hours of fun locked into its rather bland exterior. This was a game rarer than hen’s teeth to find after a while, even though it was busily being republished by Games Workshop, West End Games, Mayfair and even Avalon Hill not to mention in an assortment of other languages. I myself own two other versions– the Avalon Hill puzzling bits version and the Mayfair Two Box version (Cosmic Encounter and More Cosmic Encounter, basically the original Eon version in two boxes). Just as I was getting well heeled enough to afford the outrageous price of acquisition, my opportunities to actually play Cosmic pretty much dried up as my gaming group got older, fatter, and moved various places.

For more on Cosmic, check out these sites.  Some folks do their homework.

We had a way of playing this game– and highly ritualized it was. For one thing, you didn’t just “solicit allies”.. you had to stand up on your hind legs and proclaim it.. make a production of it.. “Join ME.. and we shall RULLLLE the Galaxy.. as Master and SLAVE!!! er.. what I meant to say.. as ALLIES!.. yes, that’s it.. ALLIES!” I always appreciated the rule-changing nature of the design, which led to a huge amount of variability and re-playability. If you are not familiar with the game, players play alien powers (of which there are many) Every alien’s special power changes the game just a little bit, but some make for epic combinations. The goal of the game is to plant five bases outside of your home system on enemy planets. To achieve this simple goal, you have to enter into alliances.. either to attack or to defend. The game has many nuances but simple mechanics.

game setup

Pour the beers, and lets get started...

The Passing of the Cosmic Cone

The Passing of the Cosmic Cone, another ritual of ours...

In our Saturday game, we played these powers:

Played by Mark Benedict.

Played by your humble narrator

Played by Bob Sargent

Played by Rob Pryor

This is a pretty decent combination, though not the most interactive. The Mutant can regenerate his hand quickly, so will have an edge in attacks. The Grudge can send ships into the warp from powers that don’t ally with him. The Healer can pull ships OUT of the warp, and thus will have the power to create alliances. The Parasite has the ability to enter into any alliance he wants, but it was never used in the game.

This being the first time we’ve played in ages, we stuck with pretty much the basic game.  Challenge Cards, artifacts, no Flares, no Technology Cards.  It was more than enough and very challenging.

As the pictures indicate, The Destiny Pile (erm, DECK) was seeing green early on in the game. They went for me (the Mutant) early on and hammered away at me.


An Unholy alliance!

I managed to avoid getting wiped out early and pretty soon the warp zone was filling up with exiled space fleets, including a surprising amount of ships from the Parasite (blue).

Bad Luck for someone!

Bad Luck for the Parasite and the Mutant...

Moment of truth

The Moment of Truth arrives.. countdown 1..2..3... FLIP!!!!

Life was starting to be pretty harsh for the Parasite and the Mutant.. we had both played an aggressive early game, and had experienced heavy losses, our fleets consigned to the otherwordly hell that is the Warp.

What shall we doooo?

Consigned to the Warp....

Surprisingly the Healer (Mark) was in a stable but not game winning position with only two bases at this point. That means plenty of fleets to expend on conquest.. this should have been his time to clean up. Instead, he did something entirely unanticipated.

Mobius Tubes

That card is the Mobius Tubes which releases all ships from the Warp simultaneously.

This gave the Parasite (Bob) and the Mutant (me) and the Grudge the chance to go up to full strength. I had promised the Healer that I would ally with him in the next challenge no matter what for playing the Mobius Tubes card. Even though I was at four bases, for some reason he invited me. The Parasite got up on his hind legs and gave an impressive soliloquy about how inviting the Mutant to ally would open the universe up for domination by the Mutants and blah blah blah.. The Mutants admired the common sense approach of the Parasite’s reasoning… but then fed him the Plague card for his troubles, causing him to lose three more fleets and further weakening him against the inevitable attack.

End Result: Mutant Victory.

Of course, the guys got a chance to kick my tail in the followup game, KUNG FU FIGHTING by Slugfest Games.

Kung Fu Fighting!

My Kung Fu was weak…

Kung Fu Fighting!

And several deadly combos knocked me down to almost no Chi

Kung Fu Fighting!

And no blocks, and no Chi Restoration cards.. Sigh..


Alas, one too many five dollar pitchers made us call a halt to the festivities.

Verdict: why the heck haven’t I played COSMIC ENCOUNTERS more than this?  The FFG version may have a lot of glitz and cool extra bits, but when you get down to it, it’s the same game we were playing in the 1980s.  I’m glad I own it!

And now, for a little dramatization…

And finally, a special treat… the designer of Cosmic Encounter, Peter Olotka, was interviewed on the LITTLE METAL DOG podcast recently. Here’s the podcast he appeared on: